Edition 2 2021

UniMelb Policy Reversion Another Setback for International Students

26 April 2021

UniMelb Policy Reversion Another Setback for International Students

Vanessa Chan and Jiyun Kim 

Unable to return to campus this semester, international students stuck overseas are now facing changes to Reduced Study Load (RSL) and Leave of Absence (LoA) eligibility. 

With the University resisting to list COVID-19 as a compassionate reason for the RSL and LoA in 2021, many international students have been left unsupported.

In 2020, the RSL and the LoA offered respite to international students, allowing them to reduce or halt their studies during the pandemic. 

This year however, the University requires international students to enrol in 50 points of subjects per semester to fulfil the requirements of their student visa, despite the ongoing challenges of COVID-19. 

If an international student fails or withdraws from their course without the University’s approval, their visa may not be extended. 

RSL and LoA applicants are required to provide convincing evidence in order to receive approval. The University’s spokesperson insisted that the impacts of COVID-19 on international students have been considered in the policy change.

“Students applying for a variation to their enrolment of this kind, where COVID-19 continues to impact on their studies, are encouraged to apply and outline the nature of the impact with supporting documentation.” 

“Where students are not able to obtain independent supporting documentation, a personal statement can be accepted and will be considered on a case-by-case basis,” they said.

Many international students consider these standards set by the University to be vague, and feel discouraged by the lack of certainty that their application will be successful. 

For students outside of Australia, online classes come with the potential drawbacks of time differences and unstable internet connections. Noting that some students have returned to campus in March, Kitty, a Malaysian student, is concerned about the disadvantages of Zoom tutorials compared to on-campus classes: 

“You can easily mute or turn off your video … especially in breakout rooms when everyone has their microphones and videos turned off and no one is participating.” 

“Whereas on campus, that’s not really an option so you have to participate in a sense,” she said. 

Many international students like Kitty believe that online classes are not a substitute for an on-campus experience. 

However, due to difficulties in retaining an Australian visa, some international students feel they have no choice but to continue their studies in the face of social isolation.  

In fact, according to research by Chen and colleagues at the University of Macau, China, the pandemic has resulted in mental health concerns for isolated international students. 

Blatant discrimination, alongside monetary, language and cultural barriers, have further exacerbated the challenges for international students during the pandemic. 

Despite drawing upon academic support provided by the University, a Singaporean student (who would like to remain anonymous) revealed his struggle in studying and socialising from overseas:

“It is sad to experience freshman life like that, it’s supposed to be a good opportunity to meet a lot of friends, and I really couldn’t find study groups to help me out,” he said. 

Whilst the return to campus for domestic students has marked Australia’s move towards normality, many extracurricular opportunities remain unavailable to international students. 

A Chinese commerce student, Wendy, pointed out that not being allowed to enter Australia means she will lose valuable industry experience.

 

“I don’t have the same access to activities compared to [students] at the campus and it has a great impact on losing so many opportunities, mainly as making friends, connections, internships.” 

“If I cannot attend the activities of clubs and societies, I cannot look for an internship in Australia anyway. [Studying online] will be simply a waste of time,” she said. 

The consequences of the limited RSL and LoA eligibility for international students have proven to be extensive. Despite the University’s efforts to provide security for those students unable to enter Australia, many feel pressured into continuing their studies without adequate support. 


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